Prior to the start of the Rochester Fringe Festival I joked that City should include an etiquette guide for Fringe audiences. This wasn't meant to be bitchy (well, not entirely bitchy), but was inspired by two thoughts. First, Rochester is used to the Jazz Festival, during which people are encouraged to hop from show to show, sometimes right in the middle of the set, and where audience etiquette tends to be fairly relaxed. And second, the Fringe Festival has the potential to bring people who do not typically consider themselves theater or dance folks into new-to-them venues. They very well may not have a concept of how they should behave. (We'll do that whole benefit-of-the-doubt thing.)
But last night I took in two shows at the Fringe Festival, and I was honestly shocked at the behaviors of several members of the audiences. Call me an elitist, call me a jerk, call me what you want, but this is a live public performance. If you're going to take one in, you need to have a level of basic respect for those around you -- and especially for those performing on the stage. So for those who don't know, or for those who perhaps need a refresher, here are a few helpful tips that will make your Fringe Fest adventures more successful, and more enjoyable for the patrons around you.
*Do not talk during a live performance. Movie theaters and music concerts have become the Wild West when it comes to audience conversations both in person or over the phone -- there are no rules anymore. But when you are at a live performance, with one or more people on stage, concentrating, trying to remember lines, blocking, and physical movements, and trying to connect emotionally with the material and audience, you really do need to keep your mouth shut. Not just for the performer's sake, but for the sake of the people sitting around you, who have also presumably paid their hard-earned money to take in a show. And whispering is just as bad. If you're not digging a particular show -- and hey, it happens -- you can keep quiet for 60 minutes (most of the Fringe shows are 60 minutes or less). I have faith in you. Mentally run baseball stats or try to remember the names of all the state capitals. That's nobody's business but yours. But I do urge you to try to keep engaged with what's going on up on stage, because you never know how a live performance is going to end. Maybe somebody will score a touchdown, or a spontaneous Victoria's Secret fashion show will take place, or a Transformer will eat the lead actor or something. It could happen! Behold the magic of the theater.
*Do not make a spectacle of yourself. At one of the performances I attended last night, a gentleman tried to leave out the back exit, and when that didn't happen, he started noisily stretching and adjusting himself before eventually returning to his seat, where he promptly snored loudly for a solid 15 minutes. On top of that, two women got up in the middle of the show -- in full view of the actor, and the entire audience of the GevaNextstage-- and walked out. Can you imagine the signal that was sending to the actor? To the rest of the audience, which you just totally distracted? It's incredibly disrespectful. Unless you have a real emergency, like a psychic flash that your house is on fire or you forgot to DVR the "Dynasty" repeat with the lily-pond fight, you can deal. Again: these shows are an hour.
*Turn off your cell phones -- no really, turn them off. You know how we're all told to turn off our cell phones at the beginning of a performance? That includes you. It really does. Unless you are the President of the United States of America, or an on-call medical professional, you're really not so important that you cannot turn off your cell phone for 60 minutes. You will survive. I promise you that this is true. And when I say "turn off," I mean TURN OFF. Your ringer on vibrate still makes noise, and people in the seats around you can still hear it. It takes them right out of a performance. Also, texting -- while technically silent -- is equally distracting for everyone sitting around you. We can see your screen. It is bright. It is really super annoying when you're trying to concentrate on a complicated narrative. And Sally can wait to find out where you're meeting for cocktails after the show. She's already drunk anyway.
*Do not take flash photography. Last night at RAPA two people were taking photos in the audience. One of them I'm fairly certain had dispensation from the crew to shoot the performance, and he wasn't using flash. But the other was snapping away for the first few minutes of the show, waving her camera up and down, side to side, flash firing. Unless you've gotten specific permission from the artists or venue, do not take photos during a live theater performance, ESPECIALLY not with flash. It is incredibly distracting to the audience, and downright dangerous to the people on stage. This isn't your 6-year-old's dance recital.
So, theatergoers of Rochester, what else did I miss? Any other rules of etiquette audiences should keep in mind?
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